communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter

pentecostThis year, World Communications Day takes place on June 1 (rather than May 1). I suspect this has something to do with the fact that Pentecost falls closer to June 1 than to May 1 this year, and the theme of communication in the Church is tied closely to the experience of Pentecost.

My observation is that  special days in the Church — such as the World Day of Peace and the World Day of Communications — often pass us by without making even a ripple in the Church or in the culture. It seems to me that we often do not make a proper preparation for the celebration of these days. And yet the Church does suggest a time of preparation; the Pope’s messages for these events are released months ahead of time.

With that in mind, for the month of May, and up through the feast of Pentecost on June 8, I’ve decided to dedicate my blog to the theme of this year’s World Communications Day: communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter.

In the coming weeks, I hope to examine Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day one paragraph at a time… with the hope that by soaking in it, slowly, it might be possible to really absorb the message and prepare for a fruitful celebration on June 1.

Here’s the opening paragraph, as a teaser:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever “smaller” and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours.  Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent.  Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family.  On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor.  Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows.  We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us.  Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives. (click here to read the entire letter)

virtual Triduum retreat

Cross_iconEaster Triduum, Holy Triduum, or Paschal Triduum is the period of three days from Holy Thursday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening) to Easter Sunday. It begins with the Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper and ends with evening prayer on Sunday. (source)

If you want to take a virtual retreat over the next few days, I’ve posted all of the audio recordings from the RCIA Hollywood program’s 2008 Triduum retreat:

The Triduum – Dr. Eric Hansen

The Stations of the Cross in Art – Dr. Eric Hansen

Good Friday at 3 PM: Miserere Mei Deus – Fr. Don Woznicki

Suffering – Barbara Nicolosi

Mary, the Bread of Life, and the Mystery of Holy Saturday – Clayton Emmer

The Last Things – Clayton Emmer

Some of the audio is not very high-quality. My apologies. It wasn’t my intention to make listening a penitential experience. I was still learning how to use my new recording equipment, and wasn’t aware of all the strategies for getting a good quality recording from a small file.

The Mass Explained

The Mass Explained is without question the most elegant, content-rich, beautiful app for the iPad that I have come across. While this app is an investment, it’s a worthy one if you want to dive deeply into the riches of the Mass. I recently purchased it after reading Amy Welborn‘s post about it.

Charlotte was Both

The Mass Explained is unlike any other Catholic app available.

Written, programmed and developed by Dan Gonzalez over a period of two years, the app is a thorough, in-depth and really exceptionally beautiful resource.

Some of us complain – a lot – about the relatively lame quality of Catholic resources. The aesthetics of our resources often reflect a paradoxical marriage of frameworks and design that are about half a decade behind the times along with an almost resolute refusal to dig more deeply into the "mass explained"profound resources our tradition has produced over two millenia. Well, here’s an opportunity to benefit from a resource that doesn’t suffer from those limitations, and that, like the Catholicism series, should be a model for anyone seeking to produce engaging and substantive catechetical and evangelical materials. Yes, I’d put it at that level.

You are going to remark on the price. Let’s get that out of…

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riding the crest of hope

I was recently given an advance copy of a book coming out this month by David Hartline entitled The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn. The book chronicles many signs of hope in the Church over recent years, with a particular focus on developments from the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s election until the present. It’s a birds-eye view that ranges over a wide terrain: the growth of faithful colleges, the Church’s purification by way of the sexual abuse scandal, the Pope’s trips to the US and Britain, the growing number of converts, and more. The accumulation of evidences for hope in a single volume makes it a worthwhile read. In an age of widespread cynicism in the media — even in Catholic media, at times — it’s refreshing to read a book that accentuates the many good things God is accomplishing in the communion of the Church.

For all of its positivity, and its broad rather than deep analysis, this is a volume about hope, not simple optimism. A passage from the end of his chapter on men and women religious says it best: “None of this is to whitewash any obvious problems. To ignore certain data and highlight the above information is not to look at the Catholic world with rose-colored glasses. Rather, it is to accentuate the positive…. Today is a new day. It’s a day of hope, the sort of hope Our Lord Jesus Christ always encourages us to have, come what may. There are just so many good things happening for which to praise and thank him….” (81).

You can pick up a copy of the book over at Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

for greater glory

Two weeks ago, I saw an advance screening of the newly-released movie For Greater Glory. Here’s my take on the film:

Andy Garcia delivers a solid performance as a man transformed by the mission that he takes up. In its best moments, the complex story of the Mexican Civil War travels alongside the narrative of the film’s main characters with a decent balance of nuance and sense of purpose. The dialogue, on the other hand, is so heavy on purpose as to exclude nearly all subtext.

The movie didn’t do a skilful job of letting the audience know whose story it was and why we should care in the first 30 minutes. There isn’t much work for the viewer to do — there’s a lot more telling than showing — other than the challenge of establishing who the minor characters are and how they relate to the rest of the cast. Many scenes feel more like set pieces for the stage than cinematic — quite a few scenes started too soon and lasted too long — and the over-long second act meanders without a strong narrative through-line. With some disciplined editing, it’s a story that could have been more compelling at 100 minutes than at its present 137.

That said, the movie does gain steam in the last 40 minutes as we finally know and care enough about the characters to feel authentically moved by the movie’s climax. A beautiful score by James Horner dominates most scenes, but its over-use means that, ultimately, it seems less purposeful and theme-driven than it might have otherwise.

I think the movie is definitely worth seeing for its presentation of an unfamiliar piece of Mexican-American history not far removed from our own day in either time or relevance.

It was better than There Be Dragons, and in a totally different league from Facing the Giants. In the moments when it wasn’t beautiful, it made me long for beauty. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder.) But enough of the back-handed praise….

I should probably see For Greater Glory again with consideration of its moral depth in mind, but as I think back on the narrative, I don’t think there was much complexity in it. Some of the conflicts were far too easily resolved; one that comes to mind is a scene between Peter O’Toole, who plays an elderly foreign-born priest, and the young protagonist. O’Toole’s character quickly determines what his role will be vis-a-vis the conflict without much deliberation or any kind of struggle. Even from a cinematic point-of-view, the lack of conflict becomes problematic. I felt carried along by the narrative, rather passively, without engaging difficult questions.

Especially in the early moments of the film, there were moments that were supposed to be emotionally engaging, but because one didn’t know the characters well enough, or what was at stake for them, I experienced something I can only call an emotional Doppler effect: one only understood the significance of the moments after they had passed. The audience wasn’t allowed into the fray of the moral dilemmas, but left a spectator… and the drama of history carried the story forward without really inviting the audience in. I’m not describing it well, but it was a story problem, to my way of thinking.

Also, the antagonists in the film were broadly drawn scapegoats, with little sense of their motivation (with the exception, perhaps, of Calles himself at certain moments).

In my mind, it is at once the most opportune and inopportune time for this movie’s message about religious freedom. Having listened to the objections of many people to religious freedom concerns vis-a-vis public policy in recent months, I can safely say that the movie does not answer any of the objections, which in a sense is no fault of its own, since it was produced long before the battle lines of the present year had really been drawn. But it adds nothing really thoughtful to that conversation.

I am ready to admit I wanted too much from this movie. Given the hostility to religious liberty currently on display in America, by many in the culture, and no small number of Catholics (including the Secretary of Health and Human Services), I wanted something that would trouble people out of their complacency… I wanted an awakening for those most glib about the need for religion to go back behind its closed doors and stop bothering the secularist vision of progress. I just don’t think that anyone without sympathies for the cause of religious liberty would come out of the theater with anything resembling a change of heart on this issue. Instead, people could come away feeling even more smug about the destructive power of religious fervor.

The movie does not so much carry a theme as it does a bumper sticker. A bumper sticker is a cheer raised on behalf of a cause it already believes in. A theme is something that has to be argued, and makes an appeal to the mind to work through a paradox and thus can speak to both the believer and the doubtful, along lines that are truly universal. And so, in that sense, I think the movie has limited audience. Although the action sequences (and in particular the sound design… bullets never sounded so good passing from one ear to the other) may cover a multitude of other considerations for audiences already primed to cheer.

Bumper sticker: Religious freedom is good.

Theme: Religious freedom protects the deepest core of what it means to be human.

For Greater Glory offered the bumper sticker, but wasn’t prepared for the hard work of delivering the theme. And so the glory of this film will not be so great: it will not be able to earn artistic credibility with the non-convinced. (See this review, for instance.)

Any Catholic defenders of religious liberty who might interpret this half-hearted review as a sign that I am a traitor to the cause of religious liberty, I will ask you this: Will you please spare an hour sometime to watch this YouTube presentation  by Barbara Nicolosi? Many thanks.